REVIEW: The Lunchbox

29 06 2014

The LunchboxLondon Film Festival, 2013

Could a film possibly be a romantic comedy if the two leads don’t end up together … or if they never even meet?  Because that’s precisely the film that “The Lunchbox” is.  And darned if it didn’t make my heart flutter.

Ritesh Batra’s first film is absolutely disarming as it reminds us the power that unexpected relationships can wield.  He doesn’t hold back the sentimentality, allowing us rich emotional connection with the characters, yet Batra does not cave to its pressures for perfect resolution.

“The Lunchbox” is nothing if not honest, and we feel all the more enriched by his sidestepping of the gushy genre cliches.  In fact, the film recalls an indie-fied “You’ve Got Mail,” only replacing the capitalist undertones from “There Will Be Blood” with the foodie fix of “Julie & Julia.”

It all begins when a frustrated housewife, Nimrat Kaur’s charming Ila, tries to enliven her tired marriage by making her husband an especially tasty lunch that he can enjoy on his break.  While much of “The Lunchbox” reflects more globally shared feelings and frustrations, the dabbawalas system of couriers bring meals from wives at home to their husbands at work marks a facet that’s distinctly Mumbai.  Yet on this fateful day, the dabbawala does not deliver Ila’s lunchbox into the correct hands.

Irrfan Khan in The Lunchbox

Instead, it goes to the cantankerous Sajaan (Irrfan Khan, recognizable to American audiences from “Slumdog Millionaire” and “Life of Pi“).  He’s a socially isolated number-cruncher about to retire and forced to train the perky upstart accountant Shaikh (a scene-stealing Nawazuddin Siddiqui) as he heads out the door.  He, too, could use a splash of excitement in his life, and Ila’s delectable dish provides him a reason to get excited for work.

The two begin corresponding through letters placed in the lunchbox, at first merely comments about the food but gradually delving into their disappointing personal lives.  Ila and Sajaan offer each other the appreciation missing from their day otherwise, and the joy that slowly begins to find its way back into their lives makes “The Lunchbox” a real treat to devour.

They also give each other hope for the promise of a new life which ultimately might not come to fruition.  These more melancholy moments land with real impact because we’re totally enthralled by the pen pals, and we fully understand the troubles they want to escape.  Batra might not be able to provide us a Hollywood ending for “The Lunchbox,” but the authenticity he supplies as an alternative is satisfyingly sweet in its own way.  B+3stars



2 responses

6 07 2014

If you can actually believe it, here in India, people were uncomfortably shifting in their seats when I went to watch it.

We’re not used to this type of conceptual cinematic food. Bollywood, with a few exceptions, keeps churning out brain-dead enterprises for ‘entertainment’. This film was a breath of fresh air and hope.

Great review, by the way. 🙂

7 07 2014

Interesting, would have no idea it inspired such a reaction there. Thanks for sharing, and keep coming back!

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